Heavy Metal (1981) – An Introduction

Here in its entirety is Darrell Buxton’s introduction to the sci-fi/fantasy animation Heavy Metal which screened at QUAD, Derby on Friday 22nd July, 2016. Next up on The Fringes is the Fright Club presentation of the 90s teen witchcraft movie THE CRAFT. 


Hello and welcome to QUAD’s latest one-off screening in our Fringe Cinema strand – via Fringe Cinema, and our regular Asian film night Satori Screen, our celebration of 1980s movies Crossing The Streams, and our monthly trip into terror with Fright Club, QUAD offers chances galore to catch up on some of those great cult items from the past or, indeed, the new films that may go on to achieve similar status with fans. We also run a Fringes loyalty scheme, by way of which you can get to see a cult movie for free if you attend any five other Fringe Cinema or related performances. (editor – Join here and pick up your loyalty card next time you visit – bit.ly/fringecinema)

We’re getting all animated this evening. We’d been hoping to bring you Ralph Bakshi’s controversial FRITZ THE CAT, but it has proven unavailable. In its place we’ve got something just as appealing to admirers of adult animation, the 1981 feature film HEAVY METAL.


HEAVY METAL features many quality names among its participants – it was produced by Ivan Reitman, the director of GHOSTBUSTERS; it features Dan O’Bannon, of ALIEN fame, among the writers; legendary Hollywood composer Elmer Bernstein provides the music; the voice cast includes the likes of Eugene Levy from the AMERICAN PIE series, Ghostbuster Harold Ramis, and the late, great John Candy; and renowned comics artist Bernie Wrightson, British/Hungarian animation pioneer John Halas of ANIMAL FARM fame, and production designer Michael Gross (creator of the famous GHOSTBUSTERS ‘no ghosts’ logo) all feature prominently too. The film was directed by Gerald Potterton, a major player in the early days of the Canadian film industry – Potterton had worked as an animator on the psychedelic Beatles movie YELLOW SUBMARINE, and also directed an absolutely wonderful live action short in 1965 called THE RAILRODDER, allowing silent film comedy giant Buster Keaton one last glorious chance to show off his towering talents.

HEAVY METAL is an attempt to capture on film something of the style of the French publication ‘Metal Hurlant’. ‘Metal Hurlant’ was the brainchild of celebrated Parisian comics artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, along with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet, and Bernard Farkas – this quartet assembled to create a magazine that would appeal to a more mature comics connoisseur, combining science fiction with eroticism and bringing the sensibility of the underground arts scene on to mainstream news-stands. The title translates as ‘howling metal’, and the first issue appeared to some acclaim in December 1974.


The mag was published in France until 1987 but has since been revived; and globally, it became a hit via the American version, renamed ‘Heavy Metal’, brought out by HM Communications in 1977 and taken over by Kevin Eastman’s Metal Mammoth Inc. from mid-1992.

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The movie version wasn’t a hit on its original release, but seen now, it really does offer a little time capsule reflecting the fantasy film trends of the day. HEAVY METAL features half a dozen separate stories with the clever linking device of a glowing green orb called the Loc-Nar, which pops up throughout and has a considerable influence on the events and the choices made by different characters. In the early 80s fans of fantasy, science fiction and horror were spoilt for choice, and you’ll see here elements of the trends for sword and sorcery films, zombie movies, dystopian nightmares, and so on. In the era of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and BLADE RUNNER, here’s a production that echoes – and in many of those cases, actually anticipates by a year or so – the popular concepts frequently seen in fantastic cinema of those times.


The film’s six episodes, plus an introductory scene, the linking story, and an epilogue, were all farmed out to individual animation houses – this worked in a rather pleasing way aesthetically, and helps to give the finished work the feel of a comics anthology, where every few pages you’d reach the end of one story and move on to a splash page or selection of panelled artwork by a completely new team. Over the course of the next ninety minutes you’ll see mutant barbarians, warrior women, gigantic spacecraft, robot sex, disintegration devices, airborne living dead, flying cars, and much, much more. In recent times, releases like the SIN CITY movies have adopted the same scattershot approach and have made a clear attempt to capture that same ‘comic book on screen’ look and feel; in the immediate wake of HEAVY METAL, George A. Romero and Stephen King teamed up for 1982’s horror compendium CREEPSHOW, which tried to also transmit the weird tales from the drawing board on to the cinema canvas, in their case using a winning mixture of heavily-stylised live action, filled with primary colours and tilted angles, and somewhat basic but nevertheless effective animated sequences.


There’s an official sequel to HEAVY METAL, if you’d care to track it down – made in 2000 and indeed titled HEAVY METAL 2000, it features that great modern day movie heavy Michael Ironside; Penthouse Pet/scream queen/ex-wife of ‘Heavy Metal’ publisher Kevin Eastman – Julie Strain; and our very own Billy Idol toplining the voice cast, this time in a single 88-minute unbroken storyline.


Over the years such major players as Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, Tenacious D, and Guillermo del Toro have been linked with a possible big screen return to the ‘Metal Hurlant’ universe, and about seven or eight years ago it seemed as though David Fincher was on the brink of overseeing a new, multi-episodic HEAVY METAL feature film, but all plans and proposals would appear to have evaporated for the time being.

No matter, because at least tonight we can present you with the original. A quick scan of a few of the film’s reviews reveals a range of critical responses: Dave Kehr of the ‘Chicago Reader’ said “Some of the animation is first-rate, particularly in the more modest comedy segments, and even the heavy set pieces have greater flash and dazzle than anything Ralph Bakshi mustered around the same period”, while in the ‘New York Times’ Janet Maslin offered praise, commenting “HEAVY METAL has been animated with great verve, and scored very well, with music much less ear-splitting than the title would suggest”. On the blog ‘Through The Shattered Lens’, a recent piece by Jedadiah Leland perhaps sums it all up best, writing: “I think I was twelve when I first saw HEAVY METAL. It came on HBO one night and I loved it. So did all of my friends. Can you blame us? It had everything that a twelve year-old boy (especially a 12 year-old boy who was more than a little on the nerdy side) could want out of a movie: boobs, loud music, and sci-fi violence. It was a tour of our secret fantasies. The fact that it was animated made it all the better. Animated films were not supposed to feature stuff like this. When my friends and I watched HEAVY METAL, we felt like we were getting away with something”.

So, settle into your seats for an excursion into geek heaven. And beware the power of the Loc-Nar…


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